Wedding Crashers yearns to break the rules, and I wish it had the courage of its convictions. The film has moments — entire stretches, even — that are so bizarre, hilarious, and utterly anarchic that its inevitable retreats to convention are a double disappointment: they lower the hit-to-miss ratio of the jokes, certainly, but beyond that, they feel like a betrayal. Someone managed to persuade Dreamworks Pictures to bite the bullet and let Wedding Crashers have its R rating instead of diluting it into PG-13 territory; couldn’t anyone convince them to ditch the rom-com format altogether? It’s tired, it’s weak, and most importantly, it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
And it is the rest of the movie — the oddities, the non sequiturs, the weird digressions, the gung ho performances — that make Wedding Crashers a strong, very funny effort. It features two supreme goofballs playing two supreme goofballs, a terrific advantage further assisted by the fact that the goofballs in question — Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson — are affable, engaging screen presences. The former’s trademark is delirious tirades, but what makes him appealing isn’t that so much as his ability to give us brilliant little individual moments. There’s a scene in Wedding Crashers where the Wilson character, standing in the front yard of a house, hears a gunshot from inside, immediately followed by Vaughn charging out the door yelling “RUN!” at the top of his lungs; it’s hardly an example of spectacular screenwriting, but the expression on Vaughn’s face combined with his panicked hoofing makes it a glorious burst of comedy.
The goofballs play two old friends and co-workers (divorce mediators, no less) whose most cherished hobby is crashing weddings — showing up at the gatherings, nebulously pretending to be a distant relative of someone or other, and hopefully leaving with an emotionally riled up young hottie or two. They do this for no particular reason except to enjoy themselves: it’s an activity, like laser tag, or going golfing, and the movie mercifully never engages in any armchair psychoanalysis with regard to why the two of them have selected this particular pastime. The two demonstrate this practice for us in a raucous and amusingly extended montage early in the film, as we see them blend flawlessly into every sort of party, often making themselves the center of attention — unwisely, perhaps, but what the hell.
It is on their biggest and riskiest “assignment” — the Secretary of the Treasury’s daughter’s nuptials — that John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) falls in love: a cardinal sin, of course, in the rulebook of crashing weddings. His target is the bride’s sister, Claire (the stunning Rachel McAdams), who makes her mark on the ceremony by loudly cracking up during the admittedly ridiculous vows. Jeremy (Vince Vaughn), meanwhile, finds a different sister who proceeds to grab onto him and hang on for dear life. So while John, understandably, is trying to score an invitation to the Secretary’s pad after the wedding, Jeremy is doing his best to avoid one.
This is pretty funny, and largely irrelevant, since the film exists to let Wilson and Vaughn do their schtick, and they get plenty of opportunity to do so. Wilson is impossible to dislike no matter what role he is playing, and whatever he says is somehow immediately persuasive even if, moments later, you start questioning it. Unleashed on something as absurd as Wedding Crashers, this quality tends to make things very interesting — at the very least, we buy into the character’s sincerity amid the havoc being wreaked around him. The movie milks the actors for all they’re worth, giving them dozen upon dozen of amusing lines, exchanges, and bits of physical comedy.
It is not until well into the second half of the film that extraneous elements begin to interfere. There is a supposedly surprising cameo that shouldn’t really surprise anyone, not to mention the fact that it crashes and burns, quickly becoming the low point of that actor’s film career. And disappointingly, the screenplay puts us through the motions of the inevitable abortive wedding scene at the climax, letting formula reign over the plot just when it should be putting the finishing touches on what had been a gleeful assertion of independence. And so Vaughn and Wilson, the pair that makes this movie a comedic success and will ensure its financial success, remain mavericks working within the System, rebels who dare not bite the hand that feeds them.